Can Data Viz Unite Us?

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Progress in organizations — and in all of human history — starts with the concession that we might be wrong. As Yuval Noah Harari suggests in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, the scientific revolution was the point in history when “humankind admits its ignorance and (as a result) begins to acquire unprecedented power.” 

That’s what I said in Data Tip #23, and I’m sticking with it. However, it’s way easier to say than to practice. Particularly in these partisan times.

I recently soaked in a series of well-executed yet oh-so-depressing data vizes in this article from the Pew Research Center. You’ve seen these types of charts before. The liberals are a blue iceberg, the conservatives a red iceberg, and they are drifting apart at an alarming rate. “We” seem to be living in a different reality than “them.”

Shortly after reading the Pew article, I climbed out of my dark hole long enough to happen upon this article from the Washington Post. It describes a series of experiments in which data displayed in charts significantly reduced the misperceptions of subjects, both liberal and conservative, on important poltical issues. And, get this, charts (bar graphs, line graphs) had much more impact than the same information presented in text — perhaps because we process visual information much more efficiently than we process words and numbers.

Okay, it was just a few experiments. But still. Let’s not totally curb our enthusiasm. This is promising. This suggests that there MIGHT be a way to bring all of us back to a somewhat similar reality. And data visualization might help get us there.

In the meantime, when different factions of our boards do not agree or when we are looking for a way to convince a reticent funder to support our work, we should remember the power of a humble chart, map, or graph.

See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data.


Photo by Kristina Litvjak on Unsplash